It's one of the most militarized areas on the planet. It's home to the world's only divided capital. Since Turkey illegally invaded the island in 1974, northern Cyprus has been filled with abandoned "ghost cities" and 40,000 armed Turkish troops. With new reunification talks on the horizon, will there finally be a resolution to "the Cyprus problem"?
Imagine if a country sent its fleet of ships to the United States, stormed America’s beaches, and proceeded to take control of the northern third of our nation. Imagine that Washington D.C., New York, Chicago and dozens of other cities were occupied by foreign armed forces and that everyone originally residing in those cities was forced to flee south, abandoning their ancestral homes and private property in the process.
That is the harsh reality Cypriots have lived since 1974.
In the summer of 1974, Turkish forces invaded the Republic of Cyprus. The takeover of the northern third of the island was swift and brutal. Hundreds of thousands of Cypriots fled their homes, triggering a massive humanitarian crisis that exists to this day.
Why did Turkey invade Cyprus?
Cypriots of Greek and Turkish decent lived peacefully side by side for hundreds of years. During a period of intercommunal tension, Turkey hatched plans to partition Cyprus. On July, 20, 1974, under the pretense of protecting Turkish Cypriots and restoring the constitutional government of the Republic of Cyprus, Turkey invaded the island and occupied about 4 percent of Cyprus. On August 14, 1974, three weeks after the constitutional government of Cyprus was restored, Turkey launched a second phase of its invasion. The final result was Turkish occupation of 38% of Cyprus, 170,000 Greek-Cypriot refugees, and approximately 1,500 missing Greek-Cypriots.
What does the international community say about Cyprus?
The reaction to Turkey’s illegal seizure of Cyprus territory and its treatment of the Cypriot people received immediate and widespread disapproval by the international community. The United Nations Security Council adopted nine resolutions within forty days after the invasion, calling for “immediate end to foreign military intervention,” demanding the immediate removal of occupying forces from the island, and recording its “formal disapproval of the unilateral military actions undertaken against the Republic of Cyprus.” You can read the U.N.’s resolution on Cyprus here.
Since then, the United Nations and the European Parliament have repeatedly called on Turkey to withdraw its forces from Cyprus and to transfer Famagusta to the United Nations in accordance with Resolution 550 (1984) of the United Nations Security Council. The European Court of Human Rights has consistently found Turkey in violation of its obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights due to its actions in Cyprus Turkey refuses to comply with international law. The self-declared “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” is recognized only by Turkey. No other country in the world acknowledges occupied Cyprus as an independent state.
What’s the solution to the Cyprus problem?
The only viable solution is one by Cypriots, for Cypriots. The Cypriot people deserve a free republic, one without foreign troops patrolling their streets and one where they have the right to return to their homes. A reunited Cyprus does not need — nor can it succeed with — rights of intervention being granted to foreign powers like Turkey. Full sovereignty means no foreign armies, an no guarantees or rights of intervention by foreign powers.
The Republic of Cyprus is committed to a settlement between the two communities and a reunified state with a single sovereignty and international personality, as defined by relevant Security Council resolutions, as the goal. A united Cyprus is the only solution that respects the sovereignty of that nation and the history of its people.
Unfortunately, Turkey continues to oppose such a solution. In blatant disregard for international law, Turkey has chosen to colonize Cyprus by sending hundreds of thousands of Turkish citizens to live in Cypriot homes and neighborhoods.
Reunification at last?
Reunification negotiations under the auspices of the United Nations continue. The latest phase is being conducted by the Republic of Cyprus’ President Nicos Anastasiades, and Turkish Cypriot lead Mustafa Akinci. This round of negotiations has been consistently hailed as making unprecedented progress. Most of the progress, however, seems to consist in breakthroughs in process — including a major multilateral Conference on Cyprus in Geneva, Switzerland — and not on issues.
There are several “chapters” that make up the potential agreement on Cyprus. The purportedly unprecedented progress has been made on the chapters concerning governance, power sharing, the economy, property compensation and territory. Yet the key chapter, on security and guarantees, has not seen any breakthroughs. Security and guarantees were the #1 issue that motivated “No” votes during the failed 2004 referendum on the flawed Annan Plan, and they are still the major stumbling block to reunifying Cyprus. Turkey insists on making its presence in Cyprus permanent, a position that will keep the island divided.
The Geneva Conference on Cyprus failed to generate any breakthroughs on security and guarantees, and technical negotiations continue between the parties. Conventional wisdom has been established that these negotiations must bear fruit before the 2018 Presidential elections in the Republic of Cyprus.
If the following sticking points cannot be overcome, no solution is imminent:
- Territory: What will be the final territorial adjustment? Where should the lines on the maps be drawn?
- Property: Will Greek-Cypriots whose properties were seized after Turkey’s invasion be able to claim their property or will they merely be compensated for them? How will the value be set? Who will pay?
- Power sharing: How will Greek and Turkish Cypriots share power? What will be the authority of each constituent sub-federal state? What will be the balance of power in the legislature and ministries at the federal level?
- Rotating Presidency: Will such a Presidency be part of a reunified Cyprus? How would that work? Would the EU be comfortable with a Turkish Cypriot President of the Republic of Cyprus pushing Turkey’s agenda at EU summits?
- Guarantees: Continuing the original system of guarantees is a non-starter. Granting Turkey a right to intervene in Cyprus in the future will only guarantee a failed referendum. Is there another entity — the EU, the UN Security Council — that can play the role of “guarantor” for a reunified Cyprus.
- Troops: How quickly will Turkey’s occupation troops leave the island? Do they need to be replaced by an International Police Force? How long will the “sunset clause” for residual Turkish troops be?
Why is Cyprus so important to America’s foreign policy?
The Republic of Cyprus has proven itself a reliable partner to the United States on issues of international concern, including countering terrorist-related activities and threats to international peace and security. Cyprus – with the world’s sixth largest ship registry – was the first European Union country to permit the U.S. navy to board and search ships bearing its flag if they are thought to carry WMD-related material. Throughout the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Cyprus has provided over-flight and landing rights to U.S. aircraft and port access for U.S. ships. Furthermore, during the Lebanon crisis of 2006, Cyprus served as the principal transit location for thousands of U.S. citizens evacuating Lebanon. In 2009, the Republic of Cyprus, in close cooperation with the U.S., halted a shipment of arms believed intended for Hamas from Iran. Cyprus was also the first EU country in which a Hezbollah operative was convicted of terrorism and helped lead the charge to declare Hezbollah’s military wing a terrorist organization at the EU.
Over the past several years, large deposits of natural gas has been discovered off of Cyprus’s shores. An American company, Noble Energy, is leading the exploitation of the first confirmed field (Aphrodite). Recently Exxon (another American company), ENI and Total were granted licenses to conduct further exploration in Cyprus’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). This exploration will of that natural resource is occurring adjacent to the massive finds made in 2016 in Egypt’s EEZ. Turkey has sent warships to harass exploration and exploitation in Cyprus’ EEZ and threatened to do so again. For America’s national security and for its economic interest, Turkey’s occupation of and threats against Cyprus must end.
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